California school closures dash hopes of senior year traditions

Schools across California have made it official: distance learning only until further notice.

It's not a surprise, but the decision dashes any hope of salvaging senior year traditions.

"I have a black, full-length off the shoulder dress," said Kate Brubaker of Novato, unzipping a garment bag to show her formal gown. 

Like so many high school seniors, Brubaker is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Her final few months at Marin Catholic High School have dissolved. 

"I was super excited to get this dress, I went shopping with my mom and I have sparkly silver shoes to wear with it," said Brubaker wistfully. "Every time I see it, I'm sad I won't be able to go to senior ball with the rest of my class." 

The state school superintendent commends the class of 2020 for it's resilience.

"We know that ceremonies are important to mark your accomplishment," said state Supt. Tony Thurmond, speaking at a Tuesday town hall. 

Some districts are re-scheduling commencement for late summer, hoping for an all-clear by then. Others are planning virtual ceremonies. 

"We will make sure that our students in the class of 2020 will have the opportunity to graduate," said Thurmond. 

He reassured rising seniors the pandemic won't hinder their college plans, but he appreciates how their cherished moments were cut short.      

"I know it's disappointing, that we can't point to when a graduation ceremony can take place but that's only because we want you to remain safe."

Student athletes, competing in spring sports, have it especially tough. 

"I miss being able to be out there with my whole team, leaving it all on the field," said Conor Mack, of Novato, one of Marin County's top college baseball recruits.

Mack is a senior at Novato High School, which just built a brand-new varsity diamond. but the season ended almost as soon as it started. 

Now he's online, staying current with academics and friends, hiking and playing guitar, and spending time with his parents and siblings. 

"It's really going to suck not being able to have a prom or the coveted senior spring," said Mack. 

Added his mom, Nina Alderete,"I'm so disappointed for him not having the rites of passage, but on the other hand it is the right thing to do." 

Mack's father is also on the Novato Unified School Board, and notes, this is not the first challenge for the class of 2020.

"There's been a few, if you remember the fires and the smoke and the power outages, these kids have had it all."

But faced with a life-threatening virus, even the most disappointed teenagers see the wisdom of social distance. 

Brubaker hopes to wear her new dress next year, as she begins college at Ohio State. 

It will always be a symbol of her senior year, gone sideways, and the experiences she missed out on.     

"I saw it coming and I'm just trying to see the silver lining in it all," said Brubaker. 

"The whole nation is dealing with it, the whole world. And we'll have this to remember for the rest of our lives."

Debora Villalon is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU